Mozan/Urkesh Eco-Archaeological Park:
This is a preliminary list of ideas relating to the Urkesh Eco-archaeological Park. They are in the nature of “pointers” for discussion, evaluation, prioritarization. There is little in the way of explanation, which is left for later. As a result, some of the content may appear to be somewhat cryptic.
The pointers emerged at various stages in August 2010 during several brainstorming sessions in Mozan, also following the visit to some of the villages along the perimeter and discussions with some of the stakeholders. The participants, besides the writer, were Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, Federico Buccellati, Same Abd el-Ghafour, Geveen al-Hassan.
· The archaeological remains are at the center of attention, because of the importance of the finds and of the ongoing excavations in Mozan. Mozan will be highlighted also in relationship to the neighboring tells, helping us to gain an idea of the ancient rural countryside.
· We will focus not only on the monuments, but on the human experience these monuments elicited. We will do this not in a romantic vein indulging in fantasy, but in a controlled way that is, however, sensitive to the full depth of the human response to the built and the natural environment, then as today.
· The aesthetic dimension will be important: the monumental richness of a major ancient capital (Urkesh) next to the simple elegance of the modern Syrian rural countryside and the stark beauty of the Jezirah plains.
· Sustainability is a central focus of our proposal. Any innovation must be assimilated from within, so that it can be carried out with the local resources, human in the first place, and then natural.
· An essential consequence of true sustainability is replicability. Possibly the Park itself, meaning that other archaeological sites might follow suit. But, perhaps more importantly, the villages: what is done within a Park village could be replicated spontaneously in villages outside (e.g., cleanliness)
· We must safeguard the original homogeneity of the rural community. We do not mean to turn the villages into a fake. Our sociological and anthropological observations will help. But we should let the local individuals formulate a self-assessment, in whatever way they may be able to articulate it.
· We will propose a controlled degree of innovation, as disparate as alternative energy and proper garbage collection. But this should not be at the expense of the original nature of the situation as we find it in the current setting. Even the idea of paving all roads met with some resistance in members of our August planning group.
· With the provisos just expressed, we, along with the stakeholders, would try to find a balanced approach to define and safeguard a common style that will characterize the Park without turning it into an alien entity.
· Viewing culture as a continuum, we will, on the one hand, communicate our sense of identification with the ancient life, and on the other we will seek to elicit a simple local response, by way, for instance, of shows by local artists and recitals by local poets and story tellers: the local cultural environment is indeed rich.
We propose that the central theme focuses on the Syrian sense of hospitality translated into an openness for sharing – alongside a strong sense of privacy and justice..
The first dimension is cultural. “Our house is you house” gets translated into “Our history is your history.” The Urkesh Expedition contributes to this, by making the store of knowledge acquired through the excavations a part of the modern Syrian experience. Which is in turn offered to all visitors.
The second dimension is environmental. The stark and simple beauty of the rural landscape will be kept in its pristine state, and shown to echo millennial antecedents, with a continuity that embeds tradition within progress. “Our landscape is your landscape.”
The third is more deeply human. It is the local community that hosts the Park, so that the villages will accept guests more than customers. The motto can be: “Our courtyard (hosh) is your courtyard.” And in that courtyard we are surrounded by the human warmth of our ultimate hosts, the stakeholders.
The main limit we envisage is on semi-industrial (not to mention industrial) growth, such as silos, cement factories, gas stations – which are common at other sites (Brak, Beydar, Fekheriah). Within the rural setting, there would only be some general guidelines aimed at maintaining the local mudbrick architecture (with various enhancements as described below), besides of course the normal agriculture.
We would however encourage development in areas away from the Park (in its three zones, see next paragraph).
It was proposed to create a two or three zone division of the territory, with the first zone corresponding to the area of the Park, and the other two adjacent to it with progressively less strict constraints.
The question was posed by a local stakeholder as to whether there would be a perceptible border, such as a line of trees. Would this create an artificial frame where we want instead to maintain what is “natural”? Also, how would the entrances be marked? Just a road sign, or a simple distinctive marker that will not intrude in the visual landscape?
One may consider establishing a legal entity that could be called “Urkesh National Trust” (a parallel exists in Jordan for the Petra National Trust). Besides the name and the nature of the organization, the interaction with other existing entities that have a stake in the project needs also to be defined.
See separate document. Even more than these pointers, the organizational chart should be seen as highly preliminary and confidential, especially because not all individuals mentioned have been as yet contacted. This will happen only after a consensus has been reached about the nature of the various positions mentioned.
This is a major item, which needs to be addressed in detail, developing fully the implications inherent in the organizational chart. We will address the question of the management structure, of guards and guides, and of their training. We have already a good experience in this respect with regard to the excavations at Mozan.
Here, too, our experience at Mozan is helpful. It is indispensable to secure not only the people and the means to do it, but to develop a mental attitude that is often lacking.
We have started an informal collection of data: lists of property owners (done by the DGAM office in Hassaka), schools, sewers existing and projected. A formal survey (in addition to the archaeological survey, below, 2.4) needs to be done, for which we will need official permission, and which will be done professionally. We have talked to local officials, and started to identify local private resources.
What is the carrying capacity of the existing situation? What are the perspectives for the immediate future? E.g., is oil exploration going to affect us? Can the project help the local community to grow in its cultural dimension? Can the project expect to attract the interest of Syrians outside the Jezirah? In neighboring Turkey (eventually Iraq)? Abroad?
As stressed in the introduction, this is a preliminary list of pointers, a table of contents for discussion. Ideas expressed by the individuals mentioned in the introduction are included throughout.
The substantial investment expended, and experience gained, at Mozan will be described. It serves as the core of the philosophical approach (culture as a continuum) that guides our effort for the Park: a multi-tiered presentation that elicits, on the one hand, the interest of the casual visitor channeling it towards an in-depth appropriation of cultural and natural values, while, on the other, it meets the expectation of the sophisticated visitor and of the scholar.
A detailed description is already available online at the Urkesh site, and reference will be made to it in the proposal.
Another essential aspect of the project is to ensure that archaeological conservation, already a hallmark of our excavation, be continued and expanded. The proposal will indicate the nature of the work needed in this respect.
The Expedition house at Mozan has been conceived as a research center, with excellent facilities. Given a sustained interest in the area, and possibly additional resources for excavation, we can envisage an almost year round operation, both at Mozan itself and in the neighboring sites (below, 2.4).
This will have a substantial impact on local economy, which already benefits, if to a much more limited extent, from our three to four month presence in the summer.
The proposal will articulate the scholarly benefits and the practical implications.
There are a few archaeological sites within the Park, the most important being Hajji Nasr. These will be explored during a proper archaeological survey (for which a permit has been requested from the DGAM), and their potential will be described. The proposal will suggest guidelines for the future exploitation of these cultural resources, in such a way as to coordinate future excavations with the goals of the Park.
This will shed light on the rural countryside of Urkesh, in ways that have never before been attempted in Syrian archaeology (and perhaps abroad as well). Generally, area-wide archaeological research has taken place in response to salvage projects, where the area is defined by modern conditions (e.g., an area flooded by a dam) and is carried out under emergency conditions.
Ours will be different. There will be no time constraint. There will be the full impact of the research being carried out at the central place of Urkesh. The Mozan Research Center offers excellent facilities for long term research (above, 2.3).
In the measure in which the sites will be excavated, and in which the results will be integrated in the scope of the Park, we will have, for the first time, an in-depth micro-regional study of an ancient city and its immediate hinterland.
A number of important sites exist near us, and they are all under excavation (Brak, Barri, Hamidiya, Chaghar Bazar, Arbid, Beydar), and a little further away (Halaf, Fekheriya, She’ir, Muhammad Diab, Leilan, Hamoukar), all the way to Hassaka (with its current new excavations of a Byzantine cathedral and the new museum).
We propose to include ample reference to these sites, offering explanations especially for those sites that do not have a presentation program in place, and explaining about the history of the region through its various historical periods.
In this way, the Park may become a regional center for visitors exploring the cultural and historical dimensions of the area.
Important archaeological sites exist in Turkey immediately beyond the border. We propose to include these as within the scope of our regional interests.
We will need to explore the status and statute of regional entities that are similar in intent to our Park, such as the Abd el-Aziz reserve and the Qamishli experimental project.
The proposal will consider making recommendations for an ethnographic study about the village culture and its traditions.
The main highways are good, but small local roads need to be improved. The proposal will give details, also about parking, depending on the projected carrying capacity of the Park.
Only three villages have sewers. More are planned. The situation may be similar for running water. The proposal will identify needs and propose a timetable.
Garbage is not properly treated, even in Qamishli. Besides being a blight aesthetically, this presents also a health hazard. We will call attention to the problem, and propose solutions.
The proposal will outline the degree to which power, telephone and internet access are available in the villages, and will make proposals.
One may envisage the possibility of having a small clinic in one of the three municipalities included in the Park (Umm er-Rabiyah, Sinjak, Topez). This would be for the local residents, but also for health concerns the visitors may have.
It has been proposed that we may encourage one village to proclaim itself as a “smoke-free village.”
· In conjunction with existing organizations such as ACSAD, we will make recommendations about possible improvements in farming and water usage. From contacts with local farmers, we have already identified improvised (and successful) attempts at improving conditions.
· This will also be undertaken with a view towards identifying the nature of the ancient flora and fauna already studied through the Urkesh excavations, and possibly replicating it.
· We will also suggest ways of calling attention to the aesthetic aspects of the rural landscape, for instance with posters that describe the firmament as it can be seen at night (for bed-and-breakfast guests…) in ways one misses in the cities because of the light “pollution.”
An important part of the proposal will contain suggestions about introducing alternative sources of energy (solar, wind) that may also serve as a model for the rest of the region.
A core aspect of the project is to develop themes for each village. Each theme is meant to have a dual intent, ancient and modern.
The ancient aspect of the theme will consist of a display room with posters and replicas of what we know about ancient Urkesh and its villages.
The modern aspect will translate that concern into a practical, modern reality.
Two examples. Ceramics: a display of ancient vessels ~ a potter’s workshop making pots using the same techniques. Writing: casts of our tablets with posters on cuneiform writing and a demonstration of the ancient scribal art ~ a small modern printshop where we will actually produce our publications.
The idea is that the villages develop a sustainable model by producing goods and offering services that not only cater to tourists, but may also produce goods for domestic use (especially local) and possibly for export. The proposal will suggest ways in which market outlets may be reached.
Following is list of such themes.
1. cafeteria (UeR, with terrace towards site)
2. administrative offices ~ ancient administration
3. spinning, weaving
4. metal working
5. jewelry making
7. plants ~ dried herbs, tea, fruits, honey
8. animals ~ petting zoo
9. writing ~ print shop
10. ceramic decoration ~ modern paintings, design
11. glyptics ~calligraphy
12. rope making, basketry
13. inlays, wood sculptures
14. stone sculpting
15. tannur ~ bread, pastry
16. children playground ~ Zamena
17. swimming pool
18. lace making, cord baskets and artificial flowers
20. the heavens: night lectures on constellations ~ ancient astronomy
21. modern shepherds ~ the ancient herding culture
Over the years, we have developed a system of interest-free loans to our workmen. This was primarily for reasons of personal needs, but the system could be expanded to include micro-credit proper. Our experience is that people do feel honor bound to redeem their debt.
This project could involve local banks, with which we have already made contact in a preliminary way.
· minority cooperative projects
· remodeling of houses according to established style and materials (a similar project has been active for several years in Aleppo, to assist homeowners to restore homes in the old part of the city).
The relationship between villages and the Park administration needs to be anticipated and dealt with in detail.
This will also include considerations about the seasonal shepherds who live in tents.
· donate old computers
· guided visits to Mozan
· hands-on workshops for children to learn how ancient people used their skills in craftsmanship
Special guided visits and presentations. Training for guides.
A cornerstone of the project is the idea that genuine Syrian hospitality should be highlighted. Hence the notion of having bed-and-breakfast facilities in the villages, and to avoid the construction of hotels within the Park or too near it..
The proposal will outline the details of how this can be envisaged, especially in two respects. First, the physical realization, which should combine comfort with tradition. Second, the oversight of conditions in the development and maintenance.
When will the Park be opened?
What will happen to the villages if it closes?
At this point, we envisage a single perimetral road, with an electric bus circling the perimeter and dropping off / picking up people at each stop. But this needs to be studied well, since it can only function if there are enough visitors.
Bicycle paths (horse trails?) should also be considered.
We envisage that the Park may become a center to promote local talents. Thus we could favor the display of local art, poetry readings, the telling of tales, etc.
Just outside the perimeter the Park there is a remarkable private entity, called Beilasan, consisting of a restaurant and a large swimming pool. They have plans to develop it into a hotel. It is remarkable because of very high quality, and yet isolated – and profitable.
In Qamishli itself there is a good hotel (Merryland), and on the Tell Tamar road a hospitality center attached to a Syriac church (Der Sayyida Mariam), with some 70 rooms, of excellent quality.
The proposal will consider the need for further accommodations, and opportunity of encouraging local entrepreneurs to take further initiatives on the model of the ones just cited – but not within view of the site.
The small town of Amuda (20,000 residents, less than 10 kms from the Park) has an impressive Cultural Center, with a large auditorium, a library, a display room (currently with an ethnographic exhibit organized by a local artist), and several classrooms. Not only can it serve as a point of reference for the Park, but its very existence indicates the richness of the local cultural humus.
Qamishli, of course, has an even larger Cultural Center.
The Qamishli airport is about 40 minutes from the Park. It has recently been upgraded to tha quality of an international airport.
The proposal will make recommendations for developing cooperative plans with Syrian Airlines, and suggestions for bus and rent-a-car services with the Park.
The road passes through an unsightly quarter of the city, where garbage is piled up along a stretch of perhaps two kilometers. This problem will have to be addressed.
The Park is on the east-west road between Qamishli and Ras el-Ain, thus in a central position for a development of an access route to the Jezirah along northern Syria. It is a two way highway, in good condition.
It is also on the north-south road between Amuda and the intersection with the Tell Tamar highway, which is the better highway for communications with the west. Continuing on the same road, one reaches Hassaka.
Qamishli has a train station that is the terminal point on the Der ez-Zor Aleppo line. The train route is attractive. Conditions have deteriorated somewhat, but we understand that there are plans to improve them.
At Qamishli there is a border crossing with Turkey (Nusaibin). This enhances the connections with Turkey, but we may envisage recommendations about keeping the post open longer: at present it closes at 3:30 PM, which makes it impossible for Park visitors to go for a one day excursion across the border.
Even Syrians are not particularly familiar with the Jezirah. We should envisage a publicity campaign that will describe the Park, and thereby the Jezirah, to Syrians, encouraging them to learn to appreciate and visit their own undiscovered homeland.
The appeal of archaeology is great. So is the discovery of nature. Combining the two will have a strong appeal. There is also the excitement of a region as yet untouched by the great itineraries.
The proposal will make suggestions about the design that such a campaign may take. This will closely coordinated with the local stakeholders and with the pertinent agencies in Damascus, to ensure that the image we propose matches the intended self-image.
The proposal will put forth a projected timetable, with benchmarks for completion of certain stages according to an explicit set of priorities.
There will also be a set of criteria for self-evaluation.
In addition, we will propose mechanisms for external review after some of the goals (to be specified) have been met.
Importantly, the proposal will make recommendations for funding avenues, at all levels and from all sources.
We have already made preliminary contacts with various Foundations, governmental agencies, commercial companies and private individuals, and the first response is one of surprise at the scope and uniqueness of the project, and consequently of great interest.
Figure 1. The villages within the Park.